Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a stubborn weed, but that’s not its only identity. It is also a common ingredient in detox routines, possibly because of its supposed ability to increase urine output. It is also known to stimulate the release of bile acids and salts from the liver, which bind with toxins and help flush them out. Inulin, a prebiotic fiber in dandelion, can help relieve constipation while some other compounds in the herb can help reduce the time food takes to be digested.
You may have known dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as the pesky weed out to colonize your yard, but don’t dismiss it yet. It’s well known as a diuretic; so much so that the French call it pissenlit (literally, wet the bed). The flowering herb is wholly edible and could lend a slightly bitter crunch to your salads. The only thing you need to ensure when you pluck it directly from your yard is that it must be pesticide-free.
Dandelion contains saponins, flavonoids, alkaloids, and phenols. While the flavonoids are found more in the flowers, the phenols, saponins, and alkaloids are more concentrated in the stem and roots. The leaves contain fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, B1, B2, and C. The bright yellow hue of the petals is due to the presence of a potent antioxidant called beta-carotene. Human studies on dandelion are lacking, but animal studies suggest that dandelion has a few health benefits to offer.
Why It’s So Great
1. May Help with Detoxification
The detox ability of dandelion may be directly connected to its diuretic nature. With a high amount of potassium compared to sodium, dandelion may increase urine output and flush out toxins from the body.
It may also be connected to its ability to protect the liver. Dandelion root is a choleretic and cholagogue, which means it increases bile flow from the liver, helping digest fats. The bitter chemicals in it are responsible for this effect. Bile acids and salts bind to toxins and help the body remove them more easily. Dandelion chemicals like luteolin, taraxacin, taraxacerin, and chlorogenic acid all protect the liver from free radicals.
A properly functioning liver can also ensure you have consistent energy levels.
2. May Help with Digestion
Besides digesting fat by helping secrete more bile, dandelion could increase gastric emptying – that is, pace up the passage of food from the stomach to the small intestine. It does this by increasing the rate of contraction of the smooth muscles in the stomach, with the help of a nerve chemical called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine transmits the signal for contraction to these smooth muscle cells.
Dandelion could also help make your bowels regular, thanks to a prebiotic fiber called inulin. Inulin feeds the good bacteria in your gut, which produces healthy short chain fatty acids and gases. It also leads to an increase in the water content of the digesta (food undergoing digestion), makes the stool softer, and increases peristalsis.
2. May Help the Bones
Hardly any research has been conducted on dandelion’s effect on bone health, but it has been traditionally considered good for the bones. The molecular mechanism isn’t known but one possible reason is that dandelion greens contain calcium and vitamin K, both of which are crucial for bone health. A cup of chopped dandelion greens yields more than 3 times the vitamin K and about 10% of the calcium you need in a day.
You can have dandelion petals and greens in salads. You could also make dandelion tea by steeping the whole flower in hot water.
There’s no upper limit to how much dandelion you could have, but you could start with a cup of tea a day.
Make sure you avoid dandelion if you have an allergy to ragweed or chrysanthemum.